After years of wandering, Sixbert Himbraza settles down at King’s
WUSC at King’s welcomes its first sponsored refugee student.
By Barrett Limoges -September 30, 2011
Imagine waking up one morning before class to find your entire world turned upside down. Walking outside, you find the classical architecture of King’s residences vanished, replaced by the low-lying concrete shells of former prison structures, interspersed among the jungle of a tent city. For first-year King’s student Sixbert Himbraza, this striking parallel universe was everyday reality just a few weeks ago when he left the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi.
“There have not been too many difficult adjustments to life in Canada,” Himbraza says with a laugh. “It is hard to go from a good situation to a bad one, but not really a bad situation to a good one.”
Himbraza has seen his fortunes bend dramatically for both better and worse. In 1994, when he was three years old, his family fled their native Rwanda in the face of genocide. Although he was young, Himbraza recalls the faces and images that would come to dominate much of his childhood.
“Everyone was leaving,” he says. “A big group with lots of families. We would get to a place, then someone would hear that the rebels were coming, and you would have to run again.”
For four years, Himbraza fled with his family on a journey that would take him from Rwanda to Congo to Tanzania, eventually finding relative safety in Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Himbraza is able to study at King’s through the efforts of the World University Services of Canada (WUSC) Student Refugee Program. Since 1978, WUSC has helped over a thousand displaced students resettle in Canada. The program also helps students adjust to life in Canada and financially supports them through their first year of study.
WUSC is well-known among the refugees at Dzaleka. After scoring well on an exam, Himbraza became one of 20 people accepted to the program out of 192 applicants in the camp.
Upon hearing the exam results broadcast, Himbraza accidentally broke the radio in his euphoria.
“All I could do was thank God,” he says. “God had done me a favour. Arriving in Canada was like going from zero to 100 per cent.”
Miranda Spessot is a third-year student at King’s who has done extensive volunteer work with the program. She says that the students and administration at King’s have gone out of their way to help WUSC get Himbraza situated.
“(Dean of Residence) Nick Hatt waived the residence fee, which was extremely helpful,” she says. Spessot also encourages others to volunteer and attend WUSC meetings, which are held in the Manning Room at five on Mondays.
While still in his first few weeks of Canadian life, Himbraza says he was been overwhelmed by the generosity of King’s students.
“The most fantastic thing I’ve seen about King’s is the community is that people are united in so many things,” he says. “It isn’t like that everywhere, that you just make a new friend one day.”
Himbraza also admires the desire of other WUSC students to give back to the communities they have joined.
“I realized that you can change somebody’s life, just by doing something small,” he says.
“I can never fully thank them for how they have changed my life.”